California Employment Law
California Employment Law Questions Answered by Legal Experts
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Contrary to what many people believe, hostility in the work place is generally not actionable. There is no legal requirement that an employees be nice, civil or courteous toto each other and no legal prohibition on name-calling or otherwise treating co-workers in a degrading or disrespectful manner. Such conduct is typically only actionable if it is occurring as a result of race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, marital status, sex, age (over 40), or sexual orientation. (See Govt. Code 12921.)
Furthermore, unless the conduct is quite severe, a single incident or isolated incidents of offensive conduct or remarks generally do not create an abusive environment. A “mere utterance of an ethnic or racial epithet which engenders offensive feelings in an employee would not affect the conditions of employment to a sufficiently significant degree to violate Title VII.” Rogers v. EEOC, 454 F.2d 234 (5th Cir. 1971). To the contrary, a “hostile environment” claim generally requires a showing of a significant pattern of offensive conduct.
If the comments are attacking you on the basis of your race or another one of the above protected criteria, an employee should typically report the conduct to their employer and explain specifically that harassment is occurring on the basis of race, gender, etc.
Under such a circumstance, California law would require an employer to "take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring." (Cal. Gov. Code, § 12940(k); Weeks v. Baker & McKenzie, 63 Cal. App. 4th 1128, 1146, 1174 (1998).) Failure to take appropriate measures may mean that your employer could then be sued.
Thus, to summarize, unless you can demonstrate that the conduct is occurring as a result of your race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, marital status, sex, age (over 40), or sexual orientation, there would be no cause of action, typically speaking.
If you can prove that such is occurring, you must report it to your employer and they will be obligated by law to address and remedy the situation. The employer must specifically be made aware that you are experiencing harassment on the basis of race, gender, etc.
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